Prison debate picks up steam

Kimberley councillor responds to mayor's prison rejection.

  • Oct. 22, 2013 11:00 a.m.

Carolyn Grant

Last week, Kimberley Mayor Ron McRae stated that the City was not endorsing the idea of a potential federal prison near the old airport on Hwy 95A.

“The discussions with the RDEK about developing a penal institution have nothing to do with your municipality, its staff and team, or official mayor and council business. The current administration does not recognize it as an initiative, let alone a recommendation or consideration.”

City Councillor Don McCormick, who has been investigating the possibility of a prison and has had informal talks about it, has responded to the mayor’s statement.

“The mayor has known for two years now that I have been pursuing this initiative,” McCormick said. “When we spoke about it, he made it clear that I had to do it as ‘Citizen Don McCormick’, so I’m doing it as Citizen Don. Now all of a sudden there is movement and Mayor McRae decides to isolate Kimberley from the process. That is a disappointment to me and I think it would be to Kimberley taxpayers as well.

“The fact is that all the other regional leaders have decided this is too big not to dip our toe into the water. We need to foster regional partnerships. The reality is we need to work with Cranbrook, with the RDEK, with First Nations on economic development.”

McCormick says that any economic development opportunity needs to be looked at and at least discussed by council.

“This is an opportunity with as big an economic impact as the Sullivan was in its final years in terms of jobs. It needs to be debated thoroughly by council before it’s rejected. The advantages and disadvantages need to be debated.”

McCormick says that when he took his oath as a city councillor, one passage stood out.

“Part of the oath was that as a Councillor you are to be ‘open to persuasive argument’. I never forgot that. Any economic development opportunity falls into that category.”

McCormick says given the challenges facing the city in terms of spending, such as the unfinished flume, the Marysville arena, infrastructure in the ground, roads such as Gerry Sorensen Way and more, any opportunity is to be taken seriously.

“You start adding all that up, and our success with grants has been spotty as well. It’s only the taxpayers we can go to and that’s not sustainable. We need substantial economic development. That’s all this prison idea represents — one opportunity.

“You need to have five or 10 opportunities underway because you don’t know which one will come to fruition.

“Right now there is no prison project. It isn’t in the (federal) budget. But if it ever is put into the budget there will be heavy competition for it. We should be trying to position ourselves.”

Mayor McRae said last week that the issue of a penitentiary was potentially divisive.

McCormick says that shouldn’t stop anyone from investigating the possibility.

“We’ve had referendums on divisive issues before. In most referendums 60 per cent in favour is considered a wildly successful majority. The sense I’m getting in talking to people around town is that up to two-thirds would support it.